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HINTS & TIPS 77

 

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BUYER BEWARE

Name                                        Ian Lewis, via email

Kit                                            Buying a TV and DVD player

Problem                                    Wanting to buy a widescreen TV and DVD player Ian heeded a close friends wise advice and consulted Home Entertainment for details and reviews of all the latest models. Ian, also a dab hand at web surfing, trawled the Internet and came up with some very attractive-looking prices from a site in Germany. Ian says they come with a one-year guarantee and he’s tempted, so what are the pros and cons of buying equipment outside the UK but within the EU.

           

Expert Reply                 The first thing to say is, don’t buy TVs outside the UK, unless you know exactly what you are doing. It might say PAL on the spec sheet, but do you know which variant? The PAL system we use in the UK (PAL I) is different to that used in most other European countries (PAL B/G) and you could quite easily be lumbered with a set that doesn’t work here. Point number two, Ian says prices are cheaper in Germany, which frankly is a big surprise, but by the time he’s added on freight, import duty and VAT, I doubt very much if it will seem quite so appealing. The extras are a legal requirement (see Getting Started in the DVD section), and unavoidable – unless the equipment is smuggled in to the country. On-line fraud is another consideration, it’s not that common and you are fairly well protected buying on the Internet with a UK credit card, but if something does go wrong getting your money back and sorting out disputes – slow delivery, faulty goods etc. -- can be very time consuming. As to the guarantees, some companies with a UK presence will honour warranties on equipment brought within the EU, others regard personal imports somewhat sniffily and may not oblige.  Broadly speaking you are unlikely to save much money buying equipment abroad – certainly not within the EU – and there is the grey area of guarantees to consider. If you know your way around a specification sheet, or you’re after an item that’s not available here then go ahead, but be aware of the risks and expense involved!

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

CAUGHT IN THE NET

Name                            Shaun Bagley, via email                                       

Kit                                wants Internet TV

Problem                        Shaun has a Sky Digital setup and is disappointed by the lack of progress on the promised Internet connection and the fact that some cable companies are now offering a service via their set-top boxes. He has seen Internet TV boxes in well known high-street stores for £99 and he’s wondering if these are a good deal if they provide the same kind of facilities as a PC?

 

Expert Reply                 At first glance having the Internet on your TV sounds – by whatever means -- like a wonderful idea but there are a number of problems (see Getting Started).  In my opinion at this early stage of the game it’s horses for course and far better to use a TV for watching television programmes and a PC for web surfing and email, even taking into account the steep learning curve if you’ve not used a PC before, and it’s not that expensive since Internet-ready PCs are now selling for less than £400. This situation is changing and when the bandwidth of the link between the home and the Internet – for most people a slow analogue phone connection -- increases to the point where it can carry high quality video, and broadcasters have created the necessary infrastructure, then TV and the web can be fully integrated, but that’s still a few years down the line.

 

REMOTE POSSIBILITIES

Name                            Anh Trante, via email            

Kit                                Powermid XL Remote Extender

Problem                        Simple question, what Anh wants to know is how to get a picture signal from the satellite receiver in the lounge to a TV in the bedroom?

 

Expert Reply                 There are basically two options, a ‘hard-wire’ cable link, or a ‘wireless’ transmitter. The former solution can use the RF or aerial output from the sat receiver, via a splitter and coaxial lead, (but the quality won’t be up to much and the sound will be in mono) or use the satellite receiver’s composite video output and a separate feed for the audio. In both cases it involves a lot of mucking around with cables all over the place. The wireless solution is a lot neater and there are a number of devices on the market, generically known as Video Senders that can do the job, using the 2.4GHz frequency band, which has been set aside for the purpose. Wireless Video Senders are fairly widely available through accessory dealers and typically cost between £90 and £150. The range is fairly short but that’s not a bad thing and most models can beam video and stereo sound signals over a distance of 50 to 100 feet inside buildings. One or two models, like the Wavecom can also send remote control signals back to the source device, killing two birds with one stone (though Anh has that covered with the Remote Extender). Picture quality can be quite good depending on the range locality, building etc., and whether or not there are any other units in use nearby, but it has to be said that it can never be as good as a properly installed cable distribution system. Nevertheless, if the TV is a small screen model (i.e. less that 20 inches), and it’s well within the system’s effective range the picture should look okay.

 

TEMPERAMENTAL TOSH

Name                            Lloyd Baker, via email            

Kit                                Toshiba 28MW7DB

Problem                        Last year Lloyd purchased his Toshiba TV from a local dealer and he believes the set has a number of defects, though the dealer assures him that it is all perfectly normal. The first problem he noticed was a distinctive buzzing sound emitted from all of the speakers when using any of the surround sound options. This, the supplier claimed, was ‘digital noise’ but Lloyd is not convinced. The second problem is a bending of the picture at the edges of the screen. Lloyd says he knows not to expect perfection but reviews he’s read generally comment on picture geometry and this behaviour doesn’t appear to be normal. Finally, and he says this fault is a little difficult to explain, in dark scenes, when someone walks into view, the colour and contrast levels change, and it does this on all input sources.

 

Expert Reply                 We’ll have to add ‘digital noise’ to our growing list of excuses proffered by devious and lazy dealers, who we are glad to say, are few and far between. Buzzing on surround sound channels is not normal or acceptable, nor is a wonky picture and changeable brightness and contrast. These are clearly faults and alignment problems that should be rectified. Sorry if this sounds preachy but Lloyd is not the one who’s in the wrong here, he must stand his ground and insist that the television is repaired forthwith or he gets his money back. He should make sure he talks to the manager and doesn’t get fobbed off, he should be persistent and polite, not too loud, but loud enough for other nearby customers to hear what’s going on. Shop owners do not like ‘scenes’. If the dealer won’t comply Lloyd should inform the dealer that he will start by complaining to his local Citizen’s Advice Bureau and if he’s a member of a trade association, report him to them as well. Lloyd should also leave the dealer in no doubt that if necessary he will begin legal proceedings to recover his losses and expenses for this inconvenience.

 

DODGY DOTS

Name                Aonghus de Barra, via email

Kit                    Sharp video projector

Problem            Favourable reviews of the Sony VPL-VW10 LCD projector has tempted Aongus to replace his Sharp XV-3410, but he’s concerned about faulty pixels. Manufacturers might consider one or two dead ones acceptable, but he doesn’t, he says. How likely is the Sony model to be afflicted he asks? Whilst he’s on the subject Aonghus also notes that his old CRT projector, 12 years and counting, still produces a vastly better picture than the LCD models he’s used, are the latest XGA models any better, he wants to know?

 

Expert Reply            As manufacturing techniques improve so the incidence of faulty pixels lessens, but I don’t know of any manufacturer who guarantees 100% perfection in its consumer displays. In practice most panels are okay and any duds are usually at the edges where they won’t be noticed, I’ve also come across pixels that apparently get better, they start out bright but after a few minutes start working properly. Nevertheless I would consider returning any projector or display with a brightly lit pixel close to the centre that stayed on all the time; inoperative pixels are easier to ignore, but still annoying. LCD displays are getting better all the time but I know what Aonghus means about CRTs, they still can’t be beaten for smooth colour rendition and picture ‘warmth’, and even the best triple element models still produce some texturing, however, in the end it’s all very subjective. Some people prefer LCDs, so let your own eyes be the judge.

 

BUSHWACKED

Name                Mayur Raja, via email                          

Kit                    Bush WS6671 28-inch widescreen TV, Goodmans DPL905 surround sound system, Goodmans VN-9500 VCR        

Problem            Eight months ago Mayur brought a 28-inch Bush widescreen TV, in January this year he purchased a Goodmans DPL system and a few weeks ago he acquired a Goodmans VN-9500 NICAM VCR. The TV connects to the DPL amp using a SCART to SCART cable with phono leads at each end. The VCR tuned in without problems but he has found that when replaying tapes – he specifically mentions Independence Day – they appear in black and white or the colour flickers intermittently. He has tried everything but cannot get a colour picture, his question therefore is, is there any compatibility problems between Bush TVs and Goodmans VCRs? 

 

Expert Reply                 Simple answer no, all TVs should work with all VCRs irrespective of the make or brand, assuming of course they are all compatible PAL I products intended for the UK market. It doesn’t sound like a cable fault though it can’t hurt if Mayur tries a good quality SCART lead, instead of the one supplied, to connect the VCR directly to the TV. Also, he should check on the back of the VCR to see if there’s a colour/auto/BW switch (I don’t recall if this model has one) if so make sure it’s set to colour. If the problem persists then there is almost certainly something wrong with the VCR, especially if all tapes (i.e. pre recorded and those recorded on the machine) are similarly affected.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

Further to the question from Ian Lewis about the Internet and TVs, here’s a few more points to consider if you are thinking about getting connected by means other than a PC. Ordinary domestic televisions are not very good at displaying what is basically computer graphics. Web pages on a TV screen look nowhere near as sharp and stable as a computer monitor, small text and fine detail can be indistinct and the viewing distance and cheapo pointing devices on some of the keyboards supplied with these products can make mouse pointer manoeuvring awkward and slow, the ‘button’s and links on some pages can be small and indistinct. The refresh rate of a TV picture is also slower than a PC monitor and bright static graphic displays are prone to exaggerate flicker, so the picture can become tiring to watch after a few minutes. Net TV boxes generally have little or no on-board data storage, so you can’t save pages as you can on a PC or download software, like MP3 music files for example. The lack of memory and hard disc drives in these products also restricts their usefulness for email; without on-board memory messages have to be stored on the server computer, and you won’t be able to open attachments, such as picture files. The limited browser capabilities of some of these units means they may not be able to handle all of the upgrades or ‘plug-ins’ needed to take advantage of the latest web page features. Then there’s the inevitable conflicts that can arise when other members of the family want to watch TV when you’re surfing, and vice-versa. In short if you want to get on the Internet – and much more besides -- do it properly and get a PC!

 

DVD QUERIES

 

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SLACK HACK

Name                            Neil Brydges, via email (neil.bridges@talk21.com)

Kit                                Philips 710 DVD player, LG DI28X12 TV

Problem                        Recently Neil came across the multi-region hack for the Philips player on the Internet but it was accompanied by a warning that it would only work 25 times. He wants to know if this is true and if so could his player be stuck in Region 1 playback.

 

Expert Reply                 The honest answer is we’re not sure. Even people we’ve spoken to at Philips won’t commit themselves on this one. At least one player we know of has been changed a good few times, we’d guess it’s into the low 30’s by now. In fact the facility isn’t a ‘hack’ as such, at least that what’s our informants at Philips tell us; they maintain that it is actually a convenience feature, for the benefit of DVD owners who move abroad, to another DVD region, hence there is no requirement for the coding lock to be changed more than a limited number of times, in which case 25 changes seems remarkably generous.... If anyone has any more information on the long-term prospects for this feature we would very much like to hear from them.

 

SCHNEIDER SEARCH

Name                            Deepak Mukhi, via email            

Kit                                in the market for a DVD player

Problem                        Not so much a problem, Deepak has heard that Asda stores are now selling DVD players, he thinks it’s a Schneider model and costs £199 and thinks it might have Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, but has been unable to find out any more. He says if it can also play Region 1 discs it could be a major bargain, do we have any more information?

 

Expert Reply                 The player in question is the Schneider DVD-810, which is new to these shores and as far as I am aware, exclusive to Asda. Asda’s head office was not much help and I gave up after talking to the twentieth person who claimed they didn’t know anything about it. A phone call to my local branch revealed that they did indeed have one in stock but no one was available who could reveal the basic specification to me, apart from the model number and price. I went to the store to see it for myself and again no one knew anything about it, my request for someone to tell me whether or not it had 5.1 sound or a DTS decoder seemed to greatly amuse the sales assistant, ‘we don’t know anything about that sort of stuff’. There’s a cautionary message in there, food retailers might know how to pile it high and sell it cheap but they’re probably not the best place to get advice on home entertainment equipment…

 

The sealed box yielded few clues but I did finally manage to track down the Schneider web site in Germany and can tell you that it does indeed have on-board Dolby Digital sound but not DTS, though the bitstream output is DTS compliant. As far as I can make out from German newsgroups on the Internet the 810 was introduced late last year and is Region 2 only, it looks like there might be a way to unlock the regional coding but apparently they’re still working on it.

 

MORE MATRIX MALADIES

Name                Mark Davies                          

Kit                    LG-2280 DVD player, Ferguson MV8421           

Problem            With considerable irony Mark says he is getting an intense feeling of deja vu when watching The Matrix on his LG DVD player. He says he gets a sort of repeat play effect when at certain points in the movie the machine takes it upon itself to play a scene over and again. Mystified, he returned the disc to Blockbuster, who obligingly exchanged it for him, twice, both times with the same result. Being an observant sort of chap Mark remembered reading somewhere about a similar problem with other players. Mark scoured various magazines, including HE, but none listed his LG player as suspect, so he assumed the fault was confined just to his machine. He returned the player to the dealer, who initially said it was a glitch on the disc, Mark persisted and convinced them to look at his machine and the repeat play phenomenon occurred exactly on cue, at 3 minutes 8 seconds, 48 mins 11 secs and 1hr 50min 15 secs. Mark persuaded them to try it on other LG players in the shop and lo and behold, they all did it, so what’s going on?      

 

Expert Reply                  What indeed? It appears this problem has only recently come to light and according to LG, it only affects a small number of players manufactured between July and August last year. According to a statement we have from LG ‘production changes have been made to the firmware to make the new players more tolerant of the exceptional amounts of computer generated data in this amazing film’. However, to us it sounds more like an intolerance of 

‘mixed-media’ discs, which also contain extra features that can be played on a PCs with DVD-ROM drives, the same sort of problem in fact that affected some Samsung, Thomson and Proline players following the release of The Matrix, Something About Mary and most recently The Mummy. LG stress this is not a technical fault and its players are fully compliant with the DVD specification, however owners of such machines can contact LG, who will make arrangements to exchange players for new models of an equivalent specification. The number to call is (01475) 744788 or email david.bain@brands.com.uk, and have your serial number ready.

 

ELEMENTARY PROBLEM

Name                            Andrew Briggs, via email

Kit                                Pioneer DVD 626

Problem                        Midway through chapter 9 David’s R2 copy of The Fifth Element freezes on his Pioneer player. A second copy pauses between chapter 9 and 10, all other discs play perfectly and both ‘faulty’ discs played okay on the shops Philips deck. David’s question therefore is do some discs disagree with some brands of player, or is this problem confined to his Pioneer player?

 

Expert Reply                 A Pioneer spokesperson assured us there are no known hardware problems with its players and this disc but they have had a number of similar complaints. It was eventually traced back to a batch of faulty discs, that for some inexplicable reason disagreed with Pioneer players. It’s still very early days for DVD but there are still far too many hardware/software compatibility problems. It is regrettable, but understandable with such a complex and still evolving technology, the only small crumb of comfort is that they’re becoming fewer and further between.

 

QUIET MAN TOO QUIET

Name                            Eunice Parker, via fax               

Kit                                Pioneer DVD 525 and 717 players

Problem                        Eunice tells us she has two Pioneer DVD players. She recently bought the John Wayne Collectors Box Set from the US and has had an annoying problem with one of the movies, The Quiet Man. She says it has been re-mastered and the picture quality is ‘beautiful’, but she cannot get any sound. She wrote to Ken Crane’s in Los Angeles, where she brought the discs and they replaced it and advised her to okay the disc in mono. Eunice went through the menus on the TV and DVD player but still couldn’t get any sound. She took the DVD to a local dealer and the movie played on his Pioneer machines, so she copied down all of the settings and checked them with her player, but they were the same. What am I doing wrong, she asks?

 

Expert Reply                 Beats me! I’ve trawled the web, spoken to knowledgeable colleagues, including an avid JW fan with a copy of the disc, but all to no avail. The Quiet Man in this box set is a region-free recording, with nothing tricky in the soundtrack department, just plain vanilla digital mono. The fact that the same disc plays on other identical Pioneer machines and other discs in the collection are okay merely deepens the mystery. However having read several reviews of this disc, and judging by the comments of others, by all accounts the quality of the soundtrack on this recording is very poor. The movie was made back in 1952 so it’s hissy mono, the only thing I can think of is that somehow the level is low, or high, and that is upsetting an AGC circuit somewhere down the line, in other words I’m stumped… It would be interesting to know if sound was present on the bitstream output implying only the mixed stereo output is affected. If anyone else has experienced this problem, or can shed any light on the matter we and Eunice would very much like to hear from you.

 

BOX COPY 2

GETTING STARTED

BUYING ABROAD

It all sounds so easy, a few mouse clicks to find a web site selling DVD players, find the model you want, enter your address and credit card details click on the ‘Buy Now’ button and hey-presto, you’ve just saved yourself a packet! If only…

 

Whilst it’s true you can often save a few quid buying on line from UK web sites don’t forget to add on any delivery charges. It might have only taken you a couple of minutes to buy your dream machine online but don’t be surprised if you have to wait a week or more for it to be delivered, possibly longer if it’s a hot new machine or they’re out of stock

 

The potential savings can look even more attractive on overseas web sites but you should exercise great caution because the price you see is almost certainly not the price you’ll end up paying, moreover the shipping delays can be incredibly frustrating (especially if the machine you want is on sale at your local video dealers), and harder to sort out, particularly if you’re dealing with vendors in non-English speaking countries. The point is duty and VAT has to be paid on just about everything imported into the UK, and that includes buying stuff over the Internet. The duty rate varies but the present rate for DVD players is 9% (discs are 3.5%) and VAT is currently 17.5%, so let’s do a few sums.

 

Suppose the purchase price abroad (PPA) of your DVD player, which includes local sales taxes packing and freight charges, comes to £300, the 9% duty on that is £27, add that to the PPA to get £327 then add on the 17.5% VAT, which on £327 comes to £57.22, making a grand total of £384.22, or a price hike of over 20%! It doesn’t end there, however you pay for the goods, whether by credit card, cheque bankers draft etc, you will have to pay some sort of commission on the currency exchange, or get a lousy rate, either way it will cost you money to buy goods in a foreign currency.

 

Suddenly it may not seem like quite such a good deal, especially if you have to wait several weeks for it to arrive, or you discover you’ve been dealing with a con merchant. Don’t think you can avoid the extras either, under International agreements the sender has to fill out a Customs declaration form, before it’ll be allowed into the country, and the goods won’t be delivered to you until you’ve paid up. If you want to know more, including advice and a list of duties on other types of goods have a look at the Customs & Excise web site on: http://www.hmce.gov.uk/public/advice/index.htm

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000 0903

 

 

CABLE CONUNDRUM

Name                            Dave Rowlinson, via email               

Kit                                Sony WFU1 32-inch TV, Sony DVP-725 DVD player, Yamaha DSP-A592 AV amp, Telewest Pace cable box

Problem                        Dave has just changed over to digital cable after enjoying pretty good picture quality and excellent surround sound from analogue cable and terrestrial TV. He was expecting a big improvement in picture quality and at least the same standard of sound. In fact the picture was very good he says, but sound quality is disappointing and he says he can’t get surround anymore and the stereo sound is ‘flat’. He called Telewest and was told that digital cable does not support surround sound. If he had known this beforehand, he wouldn’t have changed, he says. Telewest couldn’t tell him is surround sound was a future option and he couldn’t find anything about it in its sales leaflets, do we have any more information, 

 

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